Black voices: the importance of support groups for Black workers and Black care experienced children
Black voices are rarely heard in the mainstream media and are too often absent from a range of public and private organisations. When they are heard their impact is limited - they are usually silenced, suppressed, ignored or dismissed. It seems that there is an exception during Black History Month, as we are allowed to comment (not on our past shared colonial history, and its continuing psychological effects on us as that is still taboo and a no-go area). We are encouraged to move on, to forget, to put aside, but this cannot and should not be put aside unless past injustices are acknowledged and owned and until we truly know who we are and who we were, for we have a much older Ancient African history, than the one that simply encompasses slavery or Windrush. When we know and reconstruct this history, we will know how we can make a better future for all the children we care for.
The problem is that we cannot escape our past, we can only live with it. The children who rely on us for help and support cannot escape their past either; we can only help them move gradually towards finding out who they are, and what they can do for themselves and for others. What we do for them we must do for ourselves. One way to do this is through dedicated support groups which can help us to focus our energies on serving others.
In this regard, CoramBAAF is a rare and unusual organisation as it tries to enable the voices of Black workers in the family placement sector to be heard, and through Black workers we hear the voices of Black children. As a Black worker in the family placement sector, I have long sought to have the needs, wishes and feelings of Black children recognised, promoted and enhanced, either through short-term and long-term fostering, adoption, special guardianship and appropriate residential placements, as I am sure that my colleagues who work in child protection and those who work with children with disabilities have also done.
I have done this with the help of my colleagues from the North and Midlands Black Workers Group and the Southern Black Workers Groups. These groups have been running for over 30 years and aim to provide a safe space for Black workers to meet and discuss their experiences as social workers working in family placement. It is a place to celebrate our achievements, share issues of concern, and support each other to continue to advocate for the voices of children to be heard.
The two groups have also started meeting jointly, to share their stories of good practice, knowledge of family placement and visions for the future well-being and welfare of children in the care system, in a supportive environment with Black workers across the country.
If you feel that you would like to join one of these groups, meet and get to know other Black workers, and make a difference to the lives of Black children in the care system, you are more than welcome. You can get in touch and join one of CoramBAAF’s practice forums if you are a member. Or indeed, if you belong to another group that wants to support and promote the welfare and well-being of Black children or workers, we would love to hear from you.
Steve O’Loughlin, Chair of the Northern and Midlands Black Worker Family Placement Group